A state judge has issued an order that could open U.S. Highway 12 from Lolo Pass to Missoula to large loads of equipment bound for an oil sands project in Canada.

District Judge Ray Dayton modified a preliminary injunction and now says Montana's Department of Transportation can review and permit Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil loads to travel on the two-lane route to Missoula, where the loads would likely travel to Alberta via interstate highways.

The oil company proposed the alternative route after the injunction was issued.

Missoula County and three environmental groups argued the state approved an insufficient environmental assessment.

Dayton's ruling, issued Thursday, said the fact that Imperial Oil does not plan any new turnouts mitigates plaintiffs' concerns regarding the potential creation of a permanent high-wide corridor.

Associated Press